Japan’s golf diplomacy brings it back to the green

Japan’s golf diplomacy brings it back to the green

Trump implied that the US-Japan relationship was over when he said that Japan and other US allies must develop their nuclear weapons. Abe’s meeting with Trump, the second world leader to meet after British Prime Minister Theresa May, last week has already helped Japan achieve its most important diplomatic goal. It ensures the continuation of the security alliance between Japan and the United States.

The visit follows the successful pre-visit to Japan by US Secretary Of Defense James Mattis the previous week and the similar positive phone call made between Japanese Foreign Ministry Fumio Kishida and US Secretary Of State Rex Tillerson.

Mattis described Japan’s contribution (around 75 percent, with the majority of bases located in Okinawa), as “cost-sharing“. Mattis also said that under the US-Japan Security Treaty, the US will continue to defend Japan’s claims on the Senkaku Islands (also known as Daioyus in China).

Status quo

Abe’s first visit to the US was successful, with Abe confirming the importance of Japan’s contribution towards the cost of the alliance. In a press conference held after Abe arrived in Washington DC, Trump stated.

We are committed both to the security and strengthening of our vital alliance, as well as to Japan and all areas that fall under its administrative control. Our two nations have a very strong bond and friendship. This administration is dedicated to strengthening those ties.

A statement issued after the event confirmed that the US is committed to defending Japan’s claims on the Senkaku Islands under Article 5 US-Japan Security Treaty. This includes the use of nuclear and conventional military capabilities if needed.

Abe and Trump also hoped to continue the controversial relocation of the US military base in Okinawa. Abe and Trump hoped to maintain the right of international freedom of navigation and flight in the East China Sea while also avoiding any action that escalated tensions in the South China Sea.

Abe’s visit has been exactly what he wanted. Carlos Barria/Reuters

The US Navy reported the first encounter of this kind under the Trump Administration, an “unsafe interplay” between a US reconnaissance aircraft and a Chinese plane during a patrol in the South China Sea.

Trump’s first phone call with Xi Jinping was a follow-up to his letter of greeting to Xi Jinping in which he expressed his hope that they could work together productively. He reiterated that the USA has always adhered to the “One China policy.”

Problems of Trade

Abe, who ignored criticism from Japanese opposition parties, did not criticize Trump’s controversial immigration ban, which is possibly unconstitutional. Abe has no right to charge it, given Japan’s poor record in accepting refugees. Japan took only 28 refugees in 2016 despite a record number of over 10,000 applications.

The first North Korean missile test of the year took place in the middle of Abe’s US trip. It also provided the two leaders with an opportunity to demonstrate the strength of their alliance. At a joint press conference, Abe called the test “absolutely intolerant,” while Trump said, “the United States of America is 100% behind Japan, their great ally.”

The main issue is still trading, even though the defense relationship has been settled. Due to Trump’s criticism of multilateral trade agreements, the Trans-Pacific Partnership that Japan strongly supported may now be doomed.

Abe hopes Trump can also be alleviated in his hostile rhetoric about Japan’s trade with the United States.

Abe, appealing to Trump’s populist economic nationalism, presented a plan titled the USJapan Growth and Employment Initiative. The US-Japan Growth and Employment Initiative, estimated to be worth US$450 billion in total, is a pledge of potential investments by Japanese companies in the US in areas such as energy, robots, and infrastructure. The package, which promises the Creation of More Than 700,000 Jobs In America Over Ten Years, could be included in a bilateral trade agreement with Japan.

Abe and Trump decided to begin talks about a bilateral agreement in Washington instead of the TPP. To that end, a new US-Japan Economic Dialogue Group will be formed, led by US Vice President Mike Pence and Japanese deputy prime minister Taro Aso. They also had their first meeting separately in Washington.

US Vice President Mike Pence met with Japanese Deputy Premier Taro Aso for the first time in Washington. Joshua Roberts/Reuters

A bilateral trade agreement is likely to take a long time and be complex and fraught with difficulties, especially in agriculture.

Work and Play

Abe and Trump flew on Air Force One to Florida after the formal meetings in Washington. They were accompanied by Melania Trump, Akie Abe, and the first ladies to the extravagantly luxurious Mar-a-Largo Resort, where they played golf over the weekend. Trump, according to the White House, will pay for Abe’s stay at the resort and golf fees.

Trump has accepted Abe’s invitation to visit Japan in the second half of this year.

Abe will have used the turbulent and erratic first weeks of Trump’s administration to establish favorable strategic and economic relationships. The Trump administration will likely support his government to increase defence spending and pursue constitutional changes.

Abe will encourage the US to compete with China’s expansion into the Indian Ocean region through the massive “One Belt One Road” land-and-sea transport infrastructure project.

Abe’s US trip could be a crucial step towards reviving the “security diamond” that he had proposed in his first term of office as Prime Minister in 2006-2007.

These four states may revive this alliance, but it could lead to a Cold War style hegemonic conflict in the Asia Pacific region. It could also have catastrophic consequences if an armed conflict broke out over territorial disputes.

Abe is a highly energetic diplomat, and one of the best amongst modern Japanese Prime Ministers. Abe has been able to handle Trump’s lack of experience in foreign policy by flattering Trump. He was able to challenge one of Trump’s most cherished beliefs, which he publicly stated as far back as 1987: that America is being exploited by its allies when it comes to providing military protection.

Abe showed other world leaders the best way to deal with President Donald Trump. Pay a price for a deal which caters to both corporate interests and geostrategic nationalalism.

Abe could have achieved his most significant diplomatic success to date with this first official US trip. If Trump, who is known for his temperament, inconsistency and contradictions, can be trusted to keep to his agreements.

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